How to Espalier Fruit Trees

Are you short on space but longing to cultivate an orchard? Espalier trees provide delicious fruit harvests in even the tightest of spaces.

Dog training requires both patience and hard work, but can be well worth the effort. Training should begin in winter while regular trimming and training during the summer will keep them at a manageable size.

The Basics

Growing fruit trees in your yard can be challenging without enough gardening space, especially the larger varieties. A technique called espalier (say: es-PAUL-ya) allows you to train trees flat against walls or fences so they take up less room while simultaneously aiding their development in an urban or suburban garden environment. This approach works especially well when growing apples, pears or other fruit trees such as citrus.

Espaliering is a time-honored practice used by viticulturists and growers to construct structures designed to support grapevines, but can also be used for training fruit trees and shrubs. Although it requires patience, espaliers can produce delicious and ornamental results that yield delicious edible fruit!

To create an espalier, you need a trellis and wires that will guide the branches into desired shapes. Affixed to either a wall or fence for maximum stability during stormy conditions. Furthermore, you must prepare the area where you want your espalier by clearing away any plants or debris that could inhibit its development and success.

Once you’ve chosen an area for your espalier and verified it will receive enough sunlight, planting can begin. Select a young, dwarf rootstock fruit tree from a nursery and plant it dead center in your prepared space, ensuring its branches overlap with any wires strung before taking care to line them up properly with wires you have strung along its perimeter.

Your choices of espalier patterns range from cordon (horizontal branch pattern), fan (branches that grow sideways and upward), candelabra (branch formation that forms sharp angles upward) and lattice. Beginner-friendly options such as Y fans allow short spurts of fruit to develop along their two upper arms.

To plant an espalier, first mark the wall with pencil markings 48 inches above soil level and 36 and 16 inches higher, which indicate where you should train lower and upper tiers of your espalier respectively. After marking, secure posts and wires at these points.

Getting Started

An espaliered tree can be any fruit tree with bendable stems or branches, though there are some key factors to remember before beginning training. Espaliering takes patience and persistence; but once in place and flourishing it makes an elegant and productive addition to any garden or landscape.

Begin by digging a hole large enough to accommodate your espalier’s root ball, fill it with soil carefully while tamping gently with your feet in order to avoid air pockets, then water thoroughly to settle it around its roots.

Early spring after the last frost is an ideal time for planting. Choose a site that is well-drained, protected from wind, and free from weeds; amend with plenty of organic matter while adding some sharp grit to prevent erosion; prepare soil by amending with plenty of organic matter as well as sharp grit.

Escalier patterns range from formal to informal. Cordon (horizontal branches) and the candelabra pattern are relatively straightforward for novices to grasp; others, such as Belgian fence or lattice need more precision and skill from experienced artists. Your choice of shape will also impact the space required – horizontal cordon or Y pattern require only seven-foot wall width while more complex fans, basket weave or spiral designs could need up to fifteen-plus.

Building a support trellis should be your next step. This could range from something as basic as wooden stakes for dwarf or semi-dwarf cultivars to more intricate structures for larger species like peach or apple; either way, ensure that its strength and stability can withstand the weight of growing branches as they mature.

Ideal, the trellis should be located near where you plan to espalier the tree, so you can access it easily for pruning and other maintenance tasks. If the plant has already been planted and is ready for espaliering, remove any extra upright growth by mid-August before cutting back any remaining tall growth to approximately 40-75cm above ground level, where you intend to begin your first horizontal tier.


Training fruit trees into espalier shapes is an effective way to add structure to any garden and ensure they develop into the shape you envision. While this requires patience and skill, espaliered gardens offer space savings benefits while making picking easier. Any kind of tree can be espaliered; most commonly chosen are apple and pear varieties.

Most fruit trees will do well when trained into an espalier, although certain varieties perform particularly well. Apples and pears are especially productive as they produce on spurs rather than branches; quince, peaches, plums, apricots and cherries do better when trained into fans.

To start an espalier, select an ideal site and dig a hole big enough for its root ball. Fill this hole with loose soil, gently compacting its surface. Be sure to ensure that there is adequate sunlight at this planting location.

As soon as your plant has been established, begin pruning it down to its ideal size and tie back any upright growth. In August, remove any surplus side branches by cutting back to horizontal. Over the following years, create patterns by selecting two pairs of side shoots and pruning them to create desired width or shapes; during each growing season regularly prune any other new branches which interfere with your design of an espalier.

Escaliering should be treated as a long-term commitment. Regular pruning must take place to maintain the desired shape; otherwise, fruit trees will eventually return to their freestanding form and need pruning again.

The key to successful fruit tree pruning lies in positioning each branch correctly; making sure it doesn’t look tight or loose, yet is capable of supporting its own weight. If you are new to using tools for pruning fruit trees, professional advice from a horticulturist might be worthwhile – they will know which branches are strongest and weakest and provide guidance as to the most effective ways of training plants and tips on pruning styles and techniques tailored specifically to your particular crop.


Escaliering, the art of growing trees on walls or fences to add beauty and fruit, requires patience as it typically takes several years for a tree to achieve its final form and start bearing fruit.

As soon as your pattern for an espalier has been selected, find an appropriate structure to support it – for instance a wooden lattice or existing chain link fence would make good choices as they should be strong enough to support its weight while remaining flexible enough for bendy branches to pass through. Once in place, training of your tree may begin.

To prune an espalier, begin by looking for any lateral branches growing along the wires and trimming away any that are too long or have weak branch crooks (a twisting of branches). As spring progresses, more stubbier shoots will emerge which will eventually bear fruit; prune them back until just above where the basal cluster of leaves meets up; you’ll spot a ring or small ridge which indicates where this year’s new shoot begins; this should mark where this year’s new shoot starts before cutting too stubs; additionally remove any buds forming near cuts for optimal results and trim back to three leaves per branch for optimal results.

As soon as terminal buds appear at the ends of lateral branches, cut back any additional growth by approximately one inch from their base at trunk level to encourage fruiting spurs from producing on them. Within a year you should train a new central stem and two laterals as horizontal arms for your next tier, repeating this process until all levels have been reached.

To maximize this system, it is key to select a dwarf or semi-dwarf variety with self-fertilisation capabilities like Macintosh or Golden Delicious and plant it in an area with well-draining soil in full sun. This will ensure your apple tree does not compete for water and nutrients with other varieties, leading to spindly growth that decreases productivity over time.

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